Education focus of Rep. Margo McDermed’s town hall meeting
Every parent wants to see their child succeed. How one goes on to achieve this aim differs.
With the recent passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act and Evidence-Based Funding Formula, Rep. Margo McDermed (R-Frankfort), joined by Illinois State Board of Education representatives, set out to engage the public by hosting a forum Nov. 29.
The event, hosted at the Frankfort Township office, served as the third of three town hall meetings planned for the 37th district this year.
The state of education in Illinois has seen a number of changes this year.
“Because education is so important to folks, here, in the 37th district, I want to make sure that we hear from experts exactly what those changes are, what they’re going to mean for our school professionals, … what it’s going to mean for our parents and our taxpayers, and what it’s going to be mean for our students,” McDermed said.
Lawmakers in Springfield passed a new funding formula for K-12 education in August. Over time, it became less equitable to the state’s schools, in part, because of changes in education and demographics. The last time the bill saw significant change occurred 20 years ago.
“We needed to update that, and it took a long time to build consensus to move forward to that,” McDermed said. “Those of you who have been active in education know how difficult that is to bring everyone to the table and get some agreement when the needs of people who live in rural areas, suburban areas and urban areas, in terms of funding and the student body are all different.”
The new funding formula is meant to open up more dialogue between the school districts and their constituents to ensure that needs are being met with the resources they are afforded. Beginning next year, they will be required to submit annual spending plans along with their budgets to highlight how they’re spending their money.
If a gap exists in terms of meeting the needs of students, the state works to allot new money to promote equity.
School districts fall along a continuum showing those with the highest to lowest needs.
Another change arose this past summer with the introduction of new federal legislation called the Every Student Succeeds Act. This measure repeals the No Child Left Behind Act, enacted in 2001, and it aims to drive the conversation on how schools are evaluated.
“It’s often easy to forget that in some ways it was a really important piece of civil rights legislation that was trying to communicate we care about every child, but the way that NCLB expressed that was by testing every single child and led to what many have described as an assessment regime, where some of the focus in classroom was moving away from teaching and more towards the testing without the relationship that should exist there,” said Sara Shaw, senior manager of fiscal and academic solvency for the State Board of Education. “Ideally, you test to make sure that kids have learned.”
The Every Student Succeeds Act aims to take the positives derived from the No Child Left Behind Act and build on them in a more holistic manner. It outlines a set of indicators describing a district’s accountability with a focus on the overall contributions of a school, as well as subgroups.
“The point, here, is to open up conversation,” Shaw said. “[State Board of Education co-director for legislative affairs] Sarah [Hartwick] referred to the cost factors in the evidence-based funding formula and stimulating conversation between communities and districts about where money is going for what effect. Because we care about our kids and we want to know how it is that we’re supporting them, having a summative designation is going to help the state target resources to those who need it most, and it also creates this conversation in the community, so that parents who are looking at where their child is going can say, ‘Okay, I understand where my school is right now, and I can understand where I want it to be, or I can understand what my child can do within this school.’”
The Evidence-Based Funding Formula equips schools across the state with $350 million in new money.
“State Board of Education, to kind of say what we’re doing right now to get money out the door is a very, very complicated and huge shift, and the lateness of when it was signed kind of pushed the State Board of Education in a difficult position in that we wanted to get money out to districts,” said Sarah Hartwick, co-director for legislative affairs for the State Board of Education.
When the bill was passed, school districts missed two of their mandated state categorical payments.
The Evidence-Based Funding Formula will require continued appropriations from the general assembly moving forward to ensure that schools are afforded the money they need.
Currently, school districts are at least receiving the base minimum funding they received last year, plus two categorical payments are allotted each month. They take in revenue in the form of general state aid, stop-loss grants and several other line items.
“I believe, and was a supporter of the bill because I do feel that by looking at evidence of what drives successful education outcomes and by funding in accordance with that evidence, that we should be in a better footing and our schools should be more equitably funded,” McDermed said.